Philippine Air Force members deliver hope to future generation
Philippine Air Force personnel prepared for an invasion to strike the Villamor Air Base in Pasay City recently – with the hopes they could battle despair and deliver hope for the future.
The invaders – about 20 children — fell in line early one Saturday morning in July for a special program. At first glance, they appear to be normal school children out for a weekend field trip. Life for these children, however, is far from normal and less than ideal. They are the children of Bantay Bata Foundation, a non-governmental child welfare organization that rescues, shelters and rehabilitates abused and sick children in the Philippines.
Neglected children are a perennial problem in the Philippines, with as many as 100,000 street children in Metro Manila alone. They live in desperate poverty, suffer from poor health and are often victims of drug abuse. They survive by selling cigarettes, flowers, newspapers and, sometimes, themselves.
While some of these children have parents, most are forced to fend for themselves given their families’ financial situation. Meanwhile, other kids are simply abandoned by their parents. About 100 children are turned over to the Department of Social Welfare and Development across the country every two months, according to government statistics.
As soon as the children of Bantay Bata arrived at the Rotary Hangar, they met with members of the 207th Tactical Helicopter Squadron. Seven-year-old Arnel was among the first in line.
Arnel had been loitering in the streets of Manila until he was turned over by a concerned citizen to Bantay Bata, caretakers said. He’s been in the company of other street children since his mother left him wandering in Manila Bay. It was unclear, however, if Arnel’s parents live in Manila. All he knows is that his mother never came back to fetch him after letting him play along the bay walk of Manila Bay.
Recognizing the plight of abandoned children, the PAF together with the Rotaract Club of Lucena City partnered with the Bantay Bata Foundation to offer recreation activities.
PAF organizers hope these young boys and girls find inspiration from military members to become model citizens, despite the challenges they are facing. Military members participate in community-oriented programs like this one throughout the year.
As the children settled in the party area of the hangar, each was accompanied by a military member acting as parent for the day. Arnel’s parent was Jerry Reabad, an Air Force staff sergeant.
Arnel reminded Reabad of his son who is the same age. Reabad is a father of three children, two girls and a boy. It has been almost a year since he has seen his children as his family is based in Binangonan Town, Rizal Province, in central Luzon Island.
“It is occasions like this that makes me miss my family, especially my son. He’s turning 8 next month,” Reabad said as he took Arnel on his lap.
Reabad bonded with Arnel, as if the child were his own. Along with other children and their “parents,” the two participated in traditional Filipino games such as the pabitin (a rack of goodies suspended over a crowd of children), palo sebo (climbing a slippery bamboo pole), and basagan ng palayok (breaking a suspended clay pot). Winners of the games received prizes including candy, toys and clothes.
After the games, the children were treated to lunch — served in “boodle fight” fashion, where food is piled onto a long table and guests use their bare hands to eat. The intention was to show the children a traditional way for Filipino soldiers dine together and to give them a glimpse of military life.
After lunch, the children were treated to movie time featuring cartoons. Arnel was particularly excited as this was the first time he watched a full-length cartoon.
“I want to be a spaceman like one of the characters in the movie,” Arnel said, referring to Buzz Lightyear in Toy Story.
As the children watched the cartoon, PAF Capt. Sheila Marie Dauz, was teary-eyed.
“Despite their plight, these kids have not lost their innocence,” she said. “It’s a pity their parents are unable to take care of them.”
Dauz wiped away her tears as soon as Abel, her child for the day, approached. Abel had been under the care of his grandmother but had to be turned over to Bantay Bata when she died.
Later, the children were treated to a photo shoot on helicopters parked at ramp.
“I changed my mind. I want to be a pilot instead!” Arnel said after having his photo taken in the helicopter.
Shortly after the photo shoot, the children were given a tour of the PAF Museum to view past and present aircraft. At the end of the day, PAF personnel distributed school supplies and clothes before ferrying the children back to the Bantay Bata compound in Quezon City.
“It’s always hard for some of these kids to say goodbye to foster parents, as most of them long for the love and care of parents,” a caretaker said during the closing ceremony.
“I am not sure if I will ever see Arnel again, but I hope he does not forget me despite the short time we spent in this party,” said Reabad. “And I hope he keeps his dream to become a pilot when grows up.”